Fear One -- That we won't be able to come up with anything from God to use for Sunday's sermon. Actually it is a little more complicated than that. Most pastors can talk without any problem, and most of us really don't have trouble finding a passage of scripture that we can talk about. In fact that is easy. But what has gotten difficult is that everyone is telling us we have to be 'relevant to the culture', that we must be entertaining, that what we say must have something that will change the lives of people who are in their 20's with young families, the Gen X'ers like myself, the baby boomers, and those who are in their 80's (by the way have you every tried to change anything in the life of an 80 year old? Good luck. As my high school algebra teacher used to say, "Your young and flexible, you can change. I'm old, and I can't, so do it my way.") The kicker to this fear is that the bible is often counter-cultural. So the preacher's task is to take a radical text, explain it in a way that is meaningful to this culture and all its subcultures, and do it in a way that is fun so that people come back. Now that's a challenge.
Fear Two -- That someone will notice that we are human. Harold Bales says that while people often hold pastors to a higher standard, we are people. But because we don't want to let people down, we don't tell people about our struggles with our marriages or our addictions or perhaps even our hobbies. Some have described the pastor's life as a fishbowl, our lives are so public, but there are still secrets we try to hide behind that bubbling treasure chest or that 'No fishing sign' that have been carefully placed in the bowl. Actually, for me and my family, this fact hasn't been that hard. I guess I don't have much to hide. I know that I make mistakes, like backing my car into my wife's van a few years ago -- and I am more than willing to tell people what a dolt I was to forget to check my rearview mirror.
Fear Three -- That if we preach the truth of Jesus Christ people won't like us anymore. There is such a high pressure on pastors right now to succeed. Churches are shrinking, our congregations are aging, and our supervisors are measuring us for effective ministry (meaning attendance and finances), the hard truths and recent discovers, that are about as much fun to swallow as that fake cherry antibiotic was as a kid, just don't seem very wise to speak on. For example, what would happen if the pastor really laid into the congregation on the idea that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God? Or if the pastor told you that many of the letters that are in the bible and attributed to the Apostle Paul probably weren't written by Paul, and the book of Isaiah was written by two or three different persons? Or that the Holy Spirit is referred to as female in some of the early Christian writings? Or that capitalism and even democracy really aren't the biblical models for economics and politics? Yikes. People would call us communist feminist revisionist historians who are unpatriotic and have bad breath.
Fear Four -- That we aren't making a difference. 18,000 pastors quit the ministry each year. When I was ordained we were told that the average pastor would only last 5 years after ordination before leaving the ministry. Five years! Yes, there are days when I feel that I have done so little to transform people's lives. People still struggle with finding meaning in life, people still face family breakdowns and crises, and people still fight over the color of the carpet in the sanctuary.
Yes, we pastors have fears. Thankfully, this last Sunday as I sat preparing for worship I read this:
Sometimes I feel discouraged, and think my work's in vain, but then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again.
If you can't preach like Peter, if you can't pray like Paul, just tell the love of Jesus, and say he died for all.
There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole, there is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul.